South Carolina practiced for a little more than an hour Wednesday morning before freeing players to leave for the holiday break.
USC coach Steve Spurrier said he has been pleased with the effort put forth during the eight Papajohns.com Bowl practices held so far. He felt the same way last year, though, before the Gamecocks lost 31-10 to Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
"We didn't practice all that poorly last year," Spurrier said. " Practices have been pretty good but we've got to maintain it. We've got to really step it up once we start the week of the game. It's been OK, but we have to take it to the ballpark."
The team is scheduled to return to Columbia on Sunday night and practice Monday and Tuesday before departing for Birmingham on Tuesday afternoon. USC is scheduled to practice at Birmingham Southern College on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the 2 p.m. kickoff at Legion Field against Connecticut on Saturday.
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Spurrier gave his team some words of advice before letting them head home for Christmas.
"Always tell the guys to be safe, don't get in the car with anybody that has been drinking, be careful on the highways," Spurrier said. "Every time you get in the car, potentially could be the last day of your life. We try to warn our guys the best we can and go from there. That's always the message before a holiday break."
Kickoff coverage. Spurrier said the Gamecocks plan to kick to Connecticut's return men even though the Huskies have returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. .
The Gamecocks' last special teams return for a touchdown was when Chavez Donnings returned a punt against Florida in 2003.
"Their coach has already mentioned they need to score on special teams to help win the game," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, some day we can have that attitude around here that we can score on special teams, because we don't do it very well. If we're ever going to be a really, really good team, we've got to do that."
Holiday message for fans. Spurrier was upbeat after practice. He thanked USC fans for purchasing the school's allotment of 10,000 tickets.
He also wished all South Carolina fans a Merry Christmas.
"Merry Christmas to all Gamecocks out there," Spurrier said. "We will see you in Birmingham at the bowl game. We appreciate our people, our fans buying all of our allotment plus. I understand we sold a lot more than that. We'll try our best to play the best game of the year in Birmingham against a very good UConn team."
Holiday cheer for players. The team received its bowl giftsWednesday. The big-ticket item was a camcorder, but team members also received clothes, a watch and a plaque. The value of the gifts was around $800. The bowl contribute about $500 towards the gifts and the university contributes $300 towards the purchase.
Equipment manager Chris Matlock was in charge of distributing loot to the players and coaching staff.
"Matlock has done an excellent job of dividing it all up," Spurrier said. "We've got 104 players, about 20 coaches counting GA's and weight room guys and all that. It's an enormous task but, like Matlock said, it's better than not doing it. It's better to have a bowl game."
Extra points. The Gamecocks worked on the two-minute offense Wednesday. Spurrier said quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and Reid McCollum struggled getting rid of the ball in the face of the rush. .. . Offensive tackle Jarriel King missed the workout after spraining his ankle Tuesday. According to Spurrier, he should be fine in time for the game. . . . Defensive tackle Nathan Pepper has his hand in a large cast because of a broken finger he sustained a while back. Spurrier said Pepper isn't expected to wear the cast for the bowl game.